Last time, in part one of this special web extension for our recent “Over The Ledge” big-wave surfing feature, we checked in with Dylan Stott, Andres Flores, Shawn Vecchione, and Shannon “Hopper” Eichstaedt for thoughts on charging responsibly, learning to harness fear, dialing a proper quiver, and witnessing traumatic wipeouts. This time, we’ll catch up with Virginia native, East Coast World Tour pioneer, and former Duke Kahanamoku Invitational and Eddie Aikaui Big Wave Invitational competitor Wes Laine; as well as Will Skudin, the New York native, Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards contender, and Big Wave World Tour competitor who’s currently leading the charge for the East Coast. Here’s what the guys had to say…
Wes Laine: “Big-wave contests are a completely different vibe from a traditional surf contest. At the Eddie and the Duke, everyone was supporting one another. You’re excited when someone gets a good wave, and you’re encouraging people to get a bigger one. So it’s a different vibe amongst the competitors than a traditional ASP event. That’s the really cool thing about big-wave surfing: it’s a small group of guys that really support each other, even in the contests when they’re competing against each other.
“The level of big-wave surfing has gone through the roof the last few years. What they’re doing now is beyond my comprehension, but I think the most important thing for people to remember is that these guys do it because they love it. And I think it’s also really difficult for most people to realize how hard it really is to do what they do. Beyond the danger factor, it’s just super difficult to get yourself prepared mentally and physically. To me, it’s a huge accomplishment. They’re making it look easy, and it’s really not, so I hope people understand how talented these guys are today. They’ve taken it so far that it’s really amazing to me.”
Will Skudin: “I met Laird Hamilton when I was 12 years old in Lido Beach NY. I remember just being so psyched to meet him. Afterwards, I went home and read up on everything there is to know about Laird Hamilton, and my mom told me, ‘You can do what anyone else can do, so if big-wave surfing is what you want to work toward, then go for it.’ I was just a little kid at that point, and little kids always fall in love with the idea of being a firefighter, or something like that. This was just like that. I was thinking, “I want to ride big waves like this guy I just met.” I would pretend like I was surfing big waves when I was really little and there was a hurricane swell. I would pretend that I was at Mavericks. So, it was at a really early age that I thought in my mind, ‘Maybe I could do this one day.’
“I met Garrett McNamara when I was 17 years old on a trip out to Cortez Bank. I was riding for WRV, so Wes Laine gave me his brother’s number, and Randy Laine (who was a safety jet ski driver for Red Bull at the time) told me if I showed up at this boat harbor at this time with $500 cash and found Garrett McNamara, I could probably get on the boat to Cortez Bank. I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I remember walking up to Garret McNamara and I was just in awe. I’m from New York, but he called me ‘Jersey Boy,’ and I was too scared to correct him. I just gave him the money and he said, ‘Ok, let’s go. Grab those gas cans and get on the boat.’ He put me to work, and then I grabbed my tow board to bring it on the boat, and he was like, ‘Oh, so you plan on getting some waves?’ I think he thought I was just coming along for the trip. But it’s a 50-hour trip out to this wave, and I was the grom on the boat, so I got to meet everybody, and that opened up my relationship with Garrett. He kind of took me under his wing for the next three or four years and taught me a lot.
“Big-wave surfing is one of the hardest sports to get into as an East Coaster, because we don’t really have big waves on the East Coast, or very rarely do we have them, so traveling is everything, and you’re always surfing other people’s waves, so that’s tough right out of the gate. Everywhere you go, you’re not familiar with the area, you’re not a local, you don’t know the people, and you don’t know the place. Big-wave surfing is also expensive. That’s always been the struggle for me. I juggle a lot of jobs, believe it or not, and it’s not easy. Sometimes you have to just watch swells happen. I couldn’t get to Ireland for the last swell. It financially just wasn’t going to happen. That’s been the biggest struggle: trying to be everywhere. Because, if you miss a swell and it’s the swell of the year, you weren’t there, and that’s it.
“The pound-for-pound heaviest wave I’ve ever surfed was Mullaghmore. That wave’s the scariest wave on the planet. It will send some of the best big-wave surfers in the world home. When you’re standing in the parking lot and you have to put on your 6/5/4 and it’s hailing and the wave is warping and doubling up, everything is telling you to just go home, put a fire on, and get a cup of coffee. It’s a very challenging wave, and it will kill you. But, as far as tallness of waves, Todos Santos gets very tall, and I’ve surfed some really tall paddle-in sessions there where it’s been almost 50-foot faces. But comparing wave size is a tricky subject. Big is big. You know, because you feel it when you see a wave over 20-25 feet Hawaiian. That’s when you know it’s big. It goes from ‘Yeah, this is sick!’ to ‘F**k, this is nuts, let’s pick a good one.’ So there’s a switch that flips, and it’s not necessarily the tallness of the wave that tells you that.”